Over 200 nations commit to ending ocean plastic waste

December 7, 2017 by  
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Over 200 countries signed a United Nations resolution in Nairobi, Kenya to eliminate plastic waste in the world’s oceans. The resolution is an important step forward to establishing a legally binding treaty that would deal with the global oceanic plastic pollution problem. According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), there will be more plastic by weight in the world’s oceans than fish by 2050 if current trends continue. The resolution offers hope for the future. “There is very strong language in this resolution,” said Vidar Helgesen, Norway’s environment minister, in an interview with Reuters . “We now have an agreement to explore a legally binding instrument and other measures and that will be done at the international level over the next 18 months.” Although plastic pollution is a global problem, Norway was the country that initiated the UN resolution. “We found micro plastics inside mussels, which is something we like to eat,” said Helgesen. “In January this year, a fairly rare species of whale was stranded on a beach because of exhaustion and they simply had to kill it. In its tummy they found 30 plastic bags.” Even the most remote parts of the globe have not escaped the plastic menace. In the final episode of the acclaimed  Blue Planet II ,  plastic pollution is documented in isolated areas of Antarctica . Related: Scientists discover cheap method to identify “lost” 99% of ocean microplastics China is the world’s largest producer of plastic waste and biggest emitter of greenhouse gases. However, the world’s most populous country has taken the global lead in addressing these environmental crises. “If there is one nation changing at the moment more than anyone else, it’s China … the speed and determination of the government to change is enormous,” said Erik Solheim, head of UNEP, according to Reuters . Meanwhile, the resolution, which was originally intended to have legally binding targets and timetables, was weakened by the United States , after Trump Administration officials rejected the stronger language. Current American intransigence notwithstanding, Solheim envisions a future in which products and manufacturing systems are redesigned to use as little plastic as possible. “Let’s abolish products that we do not need … if you go to tourist places like Bali, a huge amount of the plastic picked from the oceans are actually straws,” said Solheim. Although there is much work to be done before a treaty is signed, several nations are already moving ahead to protect the environment. To mark the signing of the UN resolutions, 39 countries, including Chile, Oman, Sri Lanka and South Africa, adopted new commitments to reduce plastic pollution . Via Reuters Images via Depositphotos and  Trevor Leyenhorst/Flickr

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Over 200 nations commit to ending ocean plastic waste

Scientists discover cheap method to identify "lost" 99% of ocean microplastics

December 1, 2017 by  
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The world’s oceans are awash with hazardous microplastics that are largely invisible to the naked eye. These tiny plastic fragments, which are less than 5 millimeters in diameter and originate from the breakdown of synthetic clothing fibers, polyester from disposable bags and bottles, and so-called “microbeads” from facial scrubs and other exfoliants, mostly go undetected, according to scientists. In fact, previous surveys suggest only 1 percent of marine plastic waste is identifiable. To suss out the “missing” 99 percent, researchers from the University of Warwick in England decided to shine a light on the problem—quite literally—by using fluorescent dyes. Gabriel Erni-Cassola and Joseph A. Christie-Oleza from Warwick’s School of Life Sciences, who spearheaded the research, claim that the new technique can detect microplastics as small as 20 micrometers—about the width of a single human hair. Because the dye they created binds only to plastic, the “tagged” microplastics show up easily among other natural materials when viewed under a fluorescence microscope. Related: Is synthetic clothing causing “microplastic” pollution in our oceans? Testing the method on samples of surface sea water and beach sand from the coast around Plymouth, the scientists said they were able to extract a far greater number of microplastics than they would have with traditional methods. “Using this method, a huge series of samples can be viewed and analysed very quickly, to obtain large amounts of data on the quantities of small microplastics in seawater or, effectively, in any environmental sample,” said Erni-Cassola in a statement.”Current methods used to assess the amount of microplastics mostly consist in manually picking the microplastics out of samples one by one—demonstrating the great improvement of our method.” Meanwhile, the team at Warwick discovered that the largest quantity of microplastics less than 1 mm in diameter was polypropylene, the ubiquitous polymer found in plastic bags and takeout containers. This finding proves that “our consumer habits are directly affecting the oceans,” the scientists said. Related: Which personal-care brands are still polluting the oceans with microbeads? The research is still in its early days, Christie-Oleza insisted, but it’s a beginning. “Have we found the lost 99 percent of missing plastic in surface oceans?” he said. “Obviously this method needs to be implemented in future scientific surveys to confirm our preliminary findings. It is important to understand how plastic waste behaves in the environment to correctly assess future policies.” + University of Warwick Top image by by Gaetano Cessati on Unsplash

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Scientists discover cheap method to identify "lost" 99% of ocean microplastics

Harrison Ford: The greatest threat is that people in charge don’t believe in science

November 16, 2017 by  
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Take it from Indiana Jones (or Han Solo, or Rick Deckard) — doubting climate change is dangerous. The actor who played all of these characters, Harrison Ford recently gave a speech at the 30th anniversary gala for Conservation International  (CI). After receiving the Founders’ Award at the ceremony in Culver City, the outspoken advocate for ecological and environmental protection expressed his frustration with Trump — albeit indirectly. The vice-chair of CI said, “We face an unprecedented moment in this country. Today’s greatest threat is not climate change, not pollution , not flood or fire. It’s that we’ve got people in charge of important shit who don’t believe in science .” As IFLScience points out, it is hard to disagree with his assessment. Though 97 percent of climate scientists agree that global warming is a real phenomenon that poses great threats, the Trump administration — led by President Donald Trump — has downplayed the veracity that global warming is real and worrisome. To make matters worse, the administration hasn’t just ignored the science — it has outright attacked scientists and the field’s various branches. Related: Major climate science denial group admits to using false temperature data “I’m here tonight for one reason: I care deeply for the natural world . It’s not about me, it’s not about me at all, it’s about this other world we’re going to leave behind,” Ford continued. “If we don’t stop the destruction of nature, nothing else will matter. Jobs won’t matter, our economies won’t matter, our freedoms and ethics won’t matter, our children’s education and potential won’t matter, peace , prosperity.” “If we end the ability of a healthy natural world to sustain humanity nothing else will matter, simply said. For decades, Ford has advocated for sustainable change. He has met with lawmakers, businesses, and communities to discuss how improvements can be made to conservation policies and practices, according to the Hollywood Reporter . Now, he’s fed up with politicians dragging their feet and is using his platform to speak out and raise awareness. Ford concluded, “Other than my family, doing this work has been the most important thing of my life. Nature doesn’t need people, people need nature.” Via Hollywood Reporter, IFLScience Images via Wikimedia Commons,  Flickr

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Harrison Ford: The greatest threat is that people in charge don’t believe in science

Suspicious radioactive cloud over Europe may have originated in Russia

November 16, 2017 by  
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A radioactive cloud of pollution sounds like a plot point out of a B movie – but that’s what multiple European monitoring stations recently detected. Official monitors in Germany and France detected ruthenium 106, a nuclide, in late September, and some people suggested it originated in Kazakhstan or southern Russia . Multiple European monitoring stations confirmed the presence of ruthenium 106, according to France’s Institute for Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety , in the atmosphere of the majority of countries in Europe. The cause for alarm appears to have drifted away for now: the institute said since October 13, they have not detected ruthenium 106 in France. They said in a recent statement , “The concentration levels of ruthenium 106 in the air that have been recorded in Europe and especially in France are of no consequence for human health and for the environment .” Related: UNEP chief: Polluters should pay for environmental destruction, not taxpayers But there is some question over how much ruthenium 106 leaked in the first place. The institute said the amounts at the source would have been significant. If such an accident had occurred in France, authorities would have had to implement measures to protect populations for a few kilometers around the point of release. Where did the ruthenium 106 come from? Germany’s Federal Office for Radiation Protection said on October 11 , “Recent analyses as to the source of the radioactive substance suggest a high probability of a radioactive release in the Southern Ural, although other areas in the South of Russia still cannot be ruled out.” Just a few days earlier, on October 8, they’d said in a statement “Russia must be assumed to be the region of origin” and called on Russian authorities to provide information. The German and French agencies did not think the ruthenium 106 came from a nuclear reactor accident, as other nuclides probably would have been detected in such an event. France’s institute said the source could have been “nuclear fuel-cycle facilities or radioactive source production.” French agency senior official Jean-Christophe Gariel said he talked to counterparts in Russia last week, and “they told us that our results were coherent and correct, but that they were not aware of any event that could have caused that.” Via The New York Times , the Institute for Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety , and the Federal Office for Radiation Protection ( 1 , 2 ) Images via Depositphotos and Institute for Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety

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Suspicious radioactive cloud over Europe may have originated in Russia

Smog-fighting helicopters in Delhi grounded – due to smog

November 14, 2017 by  
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Delhi has been battling choking smog , prompting doctors to declare a public health emergency . The government came up with a plan: use helicopters to combat the air pollution . But there’s a problem: the helicopters can’t fly because the smog is so bad. Delhi’s government had asked state-owned company Pawan Hans to come up with a plan to deploy helicopters to drizzle water across the beleaguered city, with the hope it would help settle the smog. But Pawan Hans told city officials this week the choppers couldn’t fly in the haze. Chairman and managing director BP Sharma told The Indian Express , “Right now, with the prevailing smog, it is not possible for the helicopters to carry out operations.” Related: Delhi residents struggle to breathe as doctors declare air pollution health emergency There’s another roadblock that stands in the way: almost half of Delhi, according to an official, is part of a no-fly zone. This includes the city’s southern quarters where the prime minister, presidency, and parliament are based – and according to The Guardian , the no-fly zone is strictly policed. A Delhi government spokesperson told The Indian Express, “There are a few issues and these will be worked out while creating the [standard operating procedure]. All stakeholders are being consulted.” Experts had questioned the plan – one called it “nothing more than a load of hot air,” according to India Today . Mukesh Khare, Indian Institute of Technology Delhi professor who’s spent years working on urban air pollution, said the solution was impractical and would waste water and money, telling India Today the plan hadn’t been used anywhere in the world to take down air pollution, and that the water would dry rapidly, sending officials back to square one in a few hours. 52 percent of the particulate matter in Delhi’s air comes from dust kicked up by tens of thousands of cars , according to a 2015 study cited by The Guardian. Other factors like uncovered soil and sand from construction sites, crop burning, and slow winds have also played a role in the pollution. Via The Guardian , The Indian Express , and India Today Images via Jean-Etienne Minh-Duy Poirrier on Flickr and Shalabh Gupta on Facebook

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Smog-fighting helicopters in Delhi grounded – due to smog

World’s largest solar plant in a refugee camp opens in Jordan

November 14, 2017 by  
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The world’s largest solar plant found in a refugee camp has begun operations at the Za’atari Refugee Camp in north Jordan , near the Syrian border. The project, which cost $17.5 million, was funded by the German government and will provide power for up to 14 hours per day. The newly available solar energy at Za’atari will be used by more than 80,000 residents to charge phones, contact families outside of the camp, and power refrigeration, lights, fans and televisions. With this power comes greater security for the residents of the camp. “That allows the children to continue their studies, and also (for) the safety of women and young girls to go about. Camp life will be made much easier,” said Stefano Severe, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) representative in Jordan, according to Reuters . The new solar plant , which consists of 40,000 solar panels, will reduce carbon emissions of the camp by 13,000 tons per year and will save $5.5 million annually, which will then be reinvested back into the refugee community. Access to electricity, taken for granted in many countries, has a transformative power in the daily life of residents at a refugee camp. “When we have electricity during the day, our children can stay home, they don’t go out in this weather and play in the dust and mud,” said Anwar Hussein, a Syrian refugee who fled Damascus five years ago and has been living in Za’atari ever since. Related: SOLARKIOSK E-HUBBs put goods, services, and power back into Africa’s hands Although Za’atari may boast the world’s largest solar plant at a refugee camp , it is certainly not a unique feature. Solar energy is increasingly being used to provide power to displaced communities across the globe. For example, in nearby Azraq, an area of Jordan that once hosted magnificent wetlands that have since largely dried up, a 2-megawatt solar plant provides the electricity needs for two villages of 20,000 Syrian refugees. The Azraq plant opened in May as the world’s first solar plant in a refugee camp. Via Thomas Reuters Foundation / UNHCR Images via UNHCR/Yousef Al Hariri

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World’s largest solar plant in a refugee camp opens in Jordan

China navigates a cleaner maritime industry

November 14, 2017 by  
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Port cities and coastal nations will watch closely to see if China can reduce shipping emissions through its five-year plan.

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China navigates a cleaner maritime industry

United Kingdom joins Europe in banning bee-killing pesticides

November 10, 2017 by  
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The United Kingdom is joining Europe on a key environmental issue by supporting a total ban on neonicotinoids, pesticides that have decimated bee populations across the world. According to British environment secretary Michael Gove, the United Kingdom has reversed its previous opposition to such a ban after new research has shown that neonicotinoids cause significant damage to bee colonies. Gove was also moved to adopt this new policy position after reading reports of 75% declines in insect populations in Germany . “The weight of evidence now shows the risks neonicotinoids pose to our environment, particularly to the bees and other pollinators which play such a key part in our £100bn food industry, is greater than previously understood,” said Gove, according to The Guardian . “I believe this justifies further restrictions on their use. We cannot afford to put our pollinator populations at risk.” Although neonicotenoids are the world’s most used insecticide, their use on flowering crops was banned by the European Union in 2013. The United Kingdom nonetheless opposed the ban, though the times have changed. As the EU moves towards a total ban on neonictenoids outside of greenhouses, the United Kingdom’s change in its policy position adds momentum to the European reform effort. Related: “Bee-friendly” plants sold in the UK are coated in harmful pesticides “As is always the case, a deteriorating environment is ultimately bad economic news as well,” said Gove, citing figures that pollinators boost the profitability of UK crops by £400m-£680m each year. Gove also pointed out that, in the face of declining pollinator populations, British gala apple growers are forced to spend £5.7m per year to compensate for the loss of the natural ecological services provided by pollinators. Environmental and science groups are applauding Gove’s decision. “We warmly welcome the UK’s change of position,” said Matt Shardlow, of the insect conservation group Buglife, according to The Guardian . “Brexit will give the UK more control over the health of our ecosystems and it is essential in doing so that we apply the highest standards of care.” Via The Guardian Images via Depositphotos (1)

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United Kingdom joins Europe in banning bee-killing pesticides

On-the-go sensors could help businesses, cities pinpoint pollution

October 31, 2017 by  
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Why not turn cars, truck and buses into fleets of data collection devices?

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On-the-go sensors could help businesses, cities pinpoint pollution

On-the-go sensors could help businesses, cities pinpoint pollution

October 31, 2017 by  
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Why not turn cars, truck and buses into fleets of data collection devices?

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On-the-go sensors could help businesses, cities pinpoint pollution

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